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Saturday, 31 December 2011

Transatlantic 2-month old

4 days ago, we took our 2-month old across the ocean back home to my parents in England. It was quite the adventure, what with forgotten bus tickets and all. It started trying to shelter in a locked building and then rushing back home for the bus tickets. The bus itself was fine, except for the fact that the bus didn't have a changing table. In the end I had to change her on the seat, which became quite wet. Soon after, my backside became quite wet. Chicago O'Hare airport also was devoid of changing facilities. The best they had was a shelf with no facilities. After security the toilets didn't even have a shelf. I came to realise that businesses cater towards disabilities better than they do towards parents.

The baby took all this in its stride, looking around at the faces and the bright lights. Of course the jetlag afterwards wasn't fun. We recovered quite well, but the baby was on mid-west time. This meant a lot of time up in the night with a baby who still thought it was the afternoon. Overall, travelling with a 2-month old was easier than expected and probably easier than travelling with a 6-month old.

PS Happy New Year

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Winter is here, finally.

Last night, I was going to pst about the absence of Winter and the fact that we hadn't received any snow by the 16th December. I was going to mention the possibility of having my first non-white Christmas in America. Last night, it snowed. It finally feels like Winter. Of course, the next 4 days are well above freezing so that possibilty is still very much alive.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Michael Palin - Halfway to Hollywood

I'm reading the second of Michael Palin's publsihed diaries, titled Halfway to Hollywood. The diary covers the years 1980 through 1988. In it, he describes making various films and branching out away from the Python group. Each member was trying out their own things at this time.

Palin was always my favourote of the Python's. I'm not sure why. Perhaps it was his Suffolk connection or vhis love of trains or that he seemed like a reasonable bloke.

But it is not his comments about film and television that I find the most interesting aspect of this book. It is the fact that he details ordinary life in the UK during the 80s, my first decade on Earth. Whilst I don't remember the early part of the decade I do remember the end of it. I find it interesting reading his views about Thatcher and Reagan. He was definitely not a fan of the Tories and often wrote about how the hard work of state employees was being attacked by the Conservatives.

He also writes about international affairs. The following is one such passage

The day after Reagan bombed Tripoli, and after the shock the gradual realisation that not only has Reagan set in train the dreadful prospect of more and more warlike actions, of further reprisals by Libyan fanatics in Europe, and of a generally much less safe world, but that 90% of Americans are behind him! My feelings of revulsion against this dark side of America - the clumsy, ugly face of power without intelligence, the world bully - have quite put me off going over there next week.

I don't know what Michael would be writing in his diary about the world today, but after 25 years it seems nothing has changed at all.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Computer woes - why Best Buy sucks

After I bought my very first computer, I upgraded it on a regular basis. I replaced almost - everything. Hard drive, CD player, RAM, CPU, motherboard, sound card, graphics card, etc. The only part I didn't upgrade was the floppy disk drive. The computer was still working when I left for the US 8 years after my final changes.

In the US I decided to buy a new PC from scratch without having to build one. I got a warranty for it so that the Geek Squad (Best Buy's computer service squad) could fix it when it went wrong.

It shipped with a defective processor so the warranty was used straight away. I took it back to Best Buy. They shipped it off to the service centre instead of dealing with it in house. This is usual. It takes a week to ship there and a week to ship back and a week scheduled to fix. So, every time you have to send your computer back to them you're without it for at least three weeks.

In early November my graphics card died. I took it to Best Buy where the Geek Squad guy told me it was a driver problem and that he would update the driver for $30. No thanks. I went home and updated the driver. The graphics card was still faulty so I took it back to the shop. I waived my right to have my data backed up for $100. I had done it myself and it was only a graphics card problem anyway.

Nearly a month later I am informed that they couldn't fix the machine (all they had to do was install a new graphics card) and that they had classed it as junk. Don't worry, they would send me a new one. What a joke. I don't want a new computer, I want my old one back. Now, if I hadn't backed up my data I would be really annoyed right now. I'm still annoyed somewhat though. I'm sure I signed my rights away when I sent it off, but the employee could have mentioned that there was a chance that I wouldn't see my machine every again. I can't believe that there are no working parts to the computer. Do  I not get my RAM back, or my hard drive? What a waste.

Next time I'm building my own.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Why do Americans spell my name wrong?

It's a simple name. Quite a conventional name, really. But it seems to me they often double up one of my letters. It's true that the doubled letter is the more usual spelling in the US, but it's far from exclusive. The most recent annoyance came on the birth certificate for our newborn. So, off I went to the records office to explain that they had my name wrong. Here's the most annoying part. I didn't spell my name wrong on the form, so someone looked at my name to add it to the birth certificate and then added an extra letter. It's as if the sensory input goes directly to the part of the brain responsibly from jumping to conclusions and making assumptions.

It's not just this example. It happens frequently. I went into the AT&T shop where they ask you for you name on entry. They call out your name when they're ready to serve you. Anyway, knowing that Americans often spell my name wrong, I informed them of the correct spelling. The final bill we got that day from AT&T still had the wrong spelling.

I've had 3 chequebooks sent to me from the bank with the extra letter. I've had my name spelled wrong on minutes of meetings after I've asked for it to be changed and on one particular correspondence with a professor via email the wrong spelling every single time despite the number of times she must have seen my name (in my email address for example).

It's one thing to assume names are spelled in a particular way without any other information (done that myself), but a whole other when the correct spelling is written down in front of you.

Given the way people make assumptions about all sorts of things, I'm resigned to having this happen again.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

`He has never smoked or drunk in his life'

Whilst watching American Football on Sunday night, announcer Chris Collinsworth was describing a player's upbringing (or lack thereof) and how this player had to care for his siblings at a young age. He described the player in glowing terms and then added that `he has never smoked or drunk in his life' as if that somehow added to his virtue.

I don't smoke, but I don't think it makes me morally superior. Yet, the not drinking or smoking equals moral superiority is quite prevalent amongst certain Americans. It's as if drinking one pint will turn you into a drunken immoral mess.

This moral superiority stretches into other areas as well. In various birthing magazines the virtues of natural childbirth are extolled. Anyone having an induction for example is a bad mother. They don't say that outright, but the tone of the articles certainly suggests that. Never mind that the mother may have a medical condition that means induction is necessary or that sometimes a baby is in danger if it is left in for too long.

Of course there are times when drinking too much, for example, is not a good idea. This applies to many things, but for those that exude a certain moral superiority there is no middle ground. you're either a teetotaller or a drunk.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Birthing 101

Over the summer, Mrs Darcy and I went to some birthing and newborn care classes, three of each. I was skeptical as to the usefulness of the classes. I said to Mrs D, that we'd have to listen to a birth instructor say `hee hee hoo' as an example of breathing. Lo and behold, in the very first class, where we were sitting at the front the instructor looked at Mrs D and said something along the lines of `You can breathe like this: `hee hee hoo''. It took an effort not to laugh.

The newborn care classes were very helpful. We got to learn how to put a plastic unbendable doll into a car seat, how to change a nappy on a unbedable plastic doll and the art of swaddling unbendable plastic dolls.

The birthing class contained lots of practice with back massagers and sitting down listening to music. There was also a discussion about birthing positions, which was something useful, as long as you don't have particular medical procedures.

Anyway, this will all be tested in a week or so, when our baby arrives.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

What's in a name

I'm tasked with finding a middle name for our child. The baby is due soon, so I need to get going. One source of baby name suggestions is the the Social Security Website. Unfortunately, I not a fan of some of the current naming trends. In the US a lot of boys are being named Jayden or similar sounding names. Jayden is 4th and Aiden is 9th, and there are many variations on the same theme. I'm not sure why though.

The website is a mine of American baby naming trends. In 1880 more girls were called Frank than Abigail and 16% of males born that year were called either John or William and the top female name, Mary, accounted for 8%. In 2010, the top names in both categories accounted for just over 1% each.

The UK database is less helpful, but a perusal of UK baby names websites shows that naming trends in the US and the UK are quite different.

However, I will stay away from daft names such as the ones given on this list

Thursday, 25 August 2011

A mouse in the apartment is worth none in the field

The last couple of weeks have been  interesting. A week ago on Sunday, we were woken up by a ruffling sound coming from behind the settee at 4:30 AM. We tend to sleep in the lounge during summer because we use the available air conditioning to cool the 28C night-times. We drag out the mattress and snooze happily on the floor.

So, at 4:30 I hear a sound and wake up my wife. It sounds like an animal making a lot of noise in our house. After my wife retreats to the bedroom I drag the mattress away. Upon coming back into the lounge I see something small and black fly through the air from behind the settee. I have no idea where it went. I reason that it was either a bird or a bat.

We barricade ourselves into the bedroom (with a towel blocking off the doorway gap) and fall asleep. At 6:30 I'm awake and I can hear some scrabbling and I go to investigate. I still couldn't find anything.

Later in the day I decide it was a bat. I couldn't find evidenced of a bird. A bird would have become agitated and then probably died behind something. I decide to go bat hunting. I've never done bat hunting before, so my wife looks up on the internet how to do this. Unfortunately she discovers that bats can carry rabies. Not wanting to die a painful death we try to find out what to do. Unfortunately being Sunday, the animal control people are unavailable (I was unaware that stray animals took weekends off). I phoned the health clinics and was passed around 5 times, including back to the initial clinic to a doctor who said we needed a rabies shot because we didn't know whether we had been bitten in our sleep.

So, we went to A&E and had a rabies shot. We were informed that we'd need extra shots 3, 7 and 14 days later.

Later in the week, the pest control people came around and told us it was actually a mouse that we had (I didn't know that mice could jump a long way into the air - I was sure it was a bat). We then had to vacate the house while they put up traps. Once the critter was caught, we set about disinfecting the entire property.

We're back home now, but the mouse has caused us a huge hassle. On the plus side we used the opportunity to rearrange our living space for the arrival of our firstborn in a few weeks time.

Friday, 24 June 2011

Does Maria Sharapova have to shriek?

I've always enjoyed watching Wimbledon. I remember watching it for years (yes, I did watch the 1994 women's final (Conchita Martinez v Martina Navratilova), for example). It's one of the sporting highlights I look forward to every year. Being in America I can't watch it on the BBC. Instead I have to watch it online on ESPN. I do miss the BBC coverage, though if there is a televised match on Court 16 that ESPN is not interested in (because it contains a British player), they won't have a commentary team but instead use the BBC commentary (they even use the BBC graphics for such matches). Thus, I can still listen to Virgina Wade and John Lloyd if I pick my matches carefully.

One thing that has really annoyed me about tennis in recent years is the shrieking that some of the female players do on every single point. Maria Sharapova is the classic example, but she's not alone. It used to be a grunt, but now the shrieks are more like `AIIEEEEEEE'. It makes watching tennis very unpleasant. According to both Chris Evert (also John Lloyd's ex-wife) and Virginia Wade the shrieking is a product of the Bolletieri Academy. I've heard many announcers and ex-players from both sides of the Atlantic complain about the shrieking. Is it really necessary? They don't shriek in practice, and it doesn't always help them win. There are still some women who don't shriek (thank you Daniela), and it doesn't hinder them either. Unfortunately, I think the shrieking is here to stay. It'll only disappear if people stop watching and the sponsors start offering less money for the tournaments (then the WTA might take notice).

I'll still watch the tennis, but I may have to put it on mute.

Friday, 6 May 2011

Vote Yes to AV (or not)

I don't think I've ever knowingly agreed with Peter Mandleson until today. Lord Mandleson was a supporter of the Yes to AV campaign, and so was I. In fact, I was able to get my vote in on time for this referendum, not that it did any good, as people overwhelmingly voted no in the elections. It's a real shame, because its a much better system that gives people a lot more choice. It gives people the chance to actually vote for the parties they like instead of possibly voting for people they don't like in order to stop someone else from winning. The problem is with such a decisive margin, we won't get much needed electoral reform for 30 years.

Here are some of the reasons as I see it.

1) There was not enough time between the announcement of the referendum and the referendum itself. When you're talking about changing the way we vote, there needs to be a lot of time to digest the info to make an informed decision. In reality, people didn't understand the changes and opted to vote no.

2) The no campaign did a good job of fearmongering (the BNP will get into power!!!) and lying about costs and effectiveness.

3) The yes campaign was backed by the Lib Dems. The Lib Dems took a huge hit and may have taken down the vote with them. The Tories, of course, voted no because it's in their interests not to change. The Labour party was undecided, because Labour more than any other party gets mileage out of the First Past the Post System.

In other election news. England and Scotland once again showed that their voters behave differently. Last year, the English voted for the Conservatives but the Scottish had a lot of support for Labour which denied David Cameron an outright victory. This year, the Labour vote is back up in England (they made large gains), but they got trounced in Scotland. However, we should consider a couple of points. The first is what is at stake. Last year, they Scottish voters did what was in their power to try and stop a Conservative government and that was to vote Labour for the best effect. This year, that issue is not on the table and so they are more free to express their displeasure at both Labour (who were in power when the economic crises went down) and the Lib Dems who are in the coalition with the Tories. They have the luxury of a fourth choice of party in the SNP, that's something that the English don't have. The Conservatives actually gained a share of the vote this year, which means that some people are pleased with the deficit reduction at least. I think the Labour gains were not got from the Tories but from the Lib Dems. In essence the left wing voters were just shifting allegiance from one party to the other. We should also note that the Labour gains essentially offset last year's huge losses, though 42% of the vote is very good for a three party system.

PS Happy Birthday Mark

Friday, 29 April 2011

Royal Occasion

It's 4:25AM and I'm watching the royal wedding on TV. I couldn't help it; I'm quite the royalist at heart. All of the major TV stations are showing it (what else would they be showing at this time of day).

The commentary is fun. Each of the channels has a man a woman from the UK (with very proper accents). There is generally an American person, asking some bizarre questions (will they cheer when Prince William enters the Abbey? - er, no).

There are also a lot of questions regarding the monarchy. Is the Queen going to retire? Do you think they'll skip over Charles? Those questions got a short sharp retort from the guy. No! This is Britain. Such a thing would never happen.

Excellent. Though I must say some of the hats were bizarre.

Saturday, 19 March 2011

High School Basketball

Would you consider watching your local upper school teams play each other in a sporting competition? No, I didn't think so. It's a very big thing here. In fact, as I type this the boy's basketball state championship in being played, and it's being shown on TV. My wife assures me that it's a big thing. She remembers when her high school went to the state championships. I was in my upper school's hockey team, but it wasn't on TV and no-one came to watch, not even any parents. Over here, it's not just the parents that attend the games, but school kids themselves will turn out to watch their classmates play.

The state I live in is only slightly smaller than England but has 45 million fewer inhabitants. The state is mainly rural, but on a grand scale and it's easy to see how high school teams can attract so much attention.  For me, watching a team of 17-year olds play sport on TV is bizarre, but I didn't grow up in a culture that's so obsessed by sport. Actually, in England we enjoy watching sport, but we don't have the same ideology associated with sport in our culture. In the USA, sport is encouraged much more throughout school. Playing sport seems to be much more virtuous, and there is a sense that encouraging your child in sports is something a good middle-class parent should be doing. There is also more money invested in sport. Playing sport at the university level is a big thing and ESPN (the major sports network) even tracks the best high school prospects throughout the country.

Sport is just a very big thing over here, and people are interested in it at all levels.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Wii Patronise

Just before Christmas, we got a Wii Fit. My wife really wanted one. I was less keen, having experienced it at my parents' house. I knew I was unfit and didn't really need a machine to tell me so.

The problem I have is that I have a bad back. It was injured when I had to sleep on the floor when we had guests. The following morning I had a painful back injury that limited my movement. I ended up having physio on my back, that helped but I can't be as mobile as I once was.

Unfortunately, the Wii Fit board does not know that. It just lambastes me for not being as mobile as I can be. It also seems to favour my wife. If she doesn't use it for a day, it greets her nicely. If I don't use it for a day, it tells me off. This does not encourage me to use it further. It also comments if you try to exercise after 10pm (isn't it a bite late - shouldn't you be in bed), and if you do asks if you've cleaned your teeth yet. Not content with checking up on my posture it's concerned with my oral hygiene too.

That being said, there are times when I'm pleased with it, especially when it tells me my Wii fit age is around 25. As I approach 30 (next week), that's welcome news indeed. I also find the yoga moves very helpful for my back.

I suppose I am enjoying it. I just wish it had some context about my movement and that it was less patronising.